“Write What You Know?”

21 May

“Everything can be replaced” -Bob Dylan (I Shall be Released)

Having immersed myself in contemporary fiction for the last quarter century, intermittently I harbor feelings of regret and despair that I have not made more of an effort to touch base with the books that are frequently ascribed to the literary canon. High School English having discouraged me from the 19th century, I have late in life come to appreciate, Henry James and a few others. And, of course, Mark Twain.

Frequently, in my conversations with living authors, one or another praises the artistry of Proust, or Dickens or Melville or Hardy and extolls the pleasures that have accrued in their readings of such authors. I vow to do better in looking back (If have reread the Great Gatsby and Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy) but it occurs to me that if I did that I might not encounter some of the wonderful new stories that are being written and published today and tomorrow.

In recent weeks I have come across a quartet of novels , three of which are debuts and one a sophomore effort that obliterated the above mentioned despondency and as Jackie Wilson sang, “lifted me higher”:

Southern Cross The Dog by Blll Cheng

Southern Cross The Dog by Blll Cheng

Bensonhurst’s Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross The Dog(Ecco) is set in Mississippi commencing with the 1927 Great Flood through 1942. Apparently Cheng is garnering kudos because, among another things, he has never set foot in Mississippi. No one seems to acknowledge that he has never set foot in 1927 either but why quibble—he’s gotten well-deserved recognition. Keep in mind, for future reference, that Bill Cheng is a spawn of the Hunter College Writing Program (mentored byPeter Carey, Colum McCann and Nathan Englander)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Anthony “Hal” Marra profile might be a cliche if his debut A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon (Hogarth) was not so skillfully rendered and beautifully taie. Iowa Writer’s Workshop and then Stanford’s Stegner Fellowship program is a common credential in the ranks of young literati that one is tempted to take for granted the splendid work that is associated with these literary hot beds. By the way, Marra took the title from an English medical dictionary’s definition of life.


Speed records on salt flats, motorcycles, movie making, Manhattan art posturing and Italian revolutionary dilly-dallying are some of the topics that The Flame Throwers(Scribner) elucidates by Rachel Kushner (Telex from Cuba) via incandescent prose and an adventurous heroine. It’s a hectic but plausibly told story which showing the life of a young(woman) artist in great distinction to regnant current narratives such as Lena Dunham’s Girl’s.

Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

Set a story in early 19th century frontier Tennessee, Wash ((Atlantic Monthly Press)) bespeaks of an ambitious mind. Having slaves and frontiersmen (just off the boat)as main characters is exponentially aspirational. Ms Wrinkle renders the story and the characters with a precision that reminds one that what story telling is all about is the employment of imagination—this young woman who hails from Alabama shows in this novel she has an ample amount

By the way, my conversations with Marra and Cheng will be making their way to publication in the forseeable future.

Currently reading Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age Roberts Ehrgott (University Of Nebraska Press)

One Response to ““Write What You Know?””


  1. Up Against the Walls | ourmaninboston - May 27, 2013

    […] the Blues for Smoke exhibit at the Whitney(which closed April 28) in researching fledgling novelist Bill Cheng, who referenced it somewhere or other.Here’s an elucidating synopsis by LAMOCA curator Bennet […]

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